World Cup: U.S. Loses To Japan On Penalty Kicks

Jul 18, 2011



Some other news. The World Cup Soccer final brought a portion of America to a halt yesterday. People watched at home and in bars.


They howled as the U.S. Women's team just missed some early shots.

INSKEEP: They cheered as the U.S. twice pulled ahead.

KELLY: And then many fell silent as Japan came back and finally made more of the penalty kicks that decided a tie game.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mike Pesca was in Frankfort, Germany for the contest.

MIKE PESCA: The U.S. team had given a lot of joy to Megan Mowers of Milwaukee, and now they seemed to be taking it all back.

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PESCA: As she watched the game surrounded by two or three thousand fans at an outdoor viewing party a few miles from the stadium, Megan's exhortations echoed the Americans impotence. When Lauren Cheney missed early, Megan was supportive.

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Ms. MEGAN MOWERS: Good job, ladies, good job. All right. It's all right.

PESCA: When Abby Wambach's shot hit the crossbar, Megan was still there for her

Ms. MOWERS: It's all right, Abby. It's all right.

PESCA: And another miss.

Ms. MOWERS: What?

PESCA: And another and another.

Ms. MOWERS: Come on. Come on.

PESCA: Even her favorite Megan Rapinoe, of the reverse tin-tin haircut and the fiery playing style, was letting Megan Mowers down.

Ms. MOWERS: Megan, what was that?

PESCA: At the end of the first half, the U.S. had found a goalpost, the cross bar, the side of the net, the top of the net, just about every square inch of the area around the goal but never inside.

Ms. MOWERS: Girls, please.

PESCA: With an hour expired in the match and the game still scoreless, Megan Mowers offered a calm assessment that belied her vigorous beseeching.

Ms. MOWERS: It's a bit disappointing. I'm not going to lie.

PESCA: The U.S. kept its cool too and then got its first break. Rapinoe played a long pretty ball to Alex Morgan who put it home. But this almost imperceptibly changed the energy from eager to anxious. A misplay in front of the U.S. net and Japan's Aya Miyama evened the score.

Into overtime the game went, and in the 103rd minute Abby Wambach did what Abby Wambach does. ESPN's Ian Darke had the call.

Mr. IAN DARKE (Sports Announcer): (unintelligible) Abby Wambach. She's done it again.

PESCA: Wambach didn't exactly celebrate after the goal - she instructed. Let's focus, she seemed to tell her teammates. Let's not have a replay of the second half, where the Japanese scored 12 minutes after we did. And then 13 minutes after Wambach's goal the Japanese tied the score. It was all down to penalties.

First up, the United States' Shannon Box was stopped by keeper Ayumi Kaihori. Next, a Japan goal. Carli Lloyd then missed badly. But Hope Solo's masterful save kept the U.S. in it. Next, Tobin Heath stepped up for the U.S. ESPN has the call.

Mr. DARKE: USA surely has to score this one - and they don't. None out of three for the USA. They've never missed one before in a World Cup shootout.

PESCA: This is where the great sports narrative should have kicked in, where the David and Goliath story should have come to pass. But you know what? It did. Only the U.S. wasn't David.

Think about it: One of these two teams was the greatest women's soccer power in history. The other had never won a game in group play before this year. One of these teams had never lost in 25 previous matches against the other. One of these teams comes from a nation where soccer is the most popular team sport among girls; the other comes from a country where only 25,000 girls played the game as of 2006.

Japan's victory, sealed on a kick from Saki Kumagai, was as unlikely a win as you'll get in international competition. After the match, Abby Wambach found it all hard to explain.

Ms. ABBY WAMBACH (Striker, U.S. Woman's Soccer Team): The magnitude of all of this can get to the best of you. Not that there was any focus. We weren't focused in that one second. Just, I don't know. Japan just kept coming and they never gave up. And in the end, they're the world champs.

PESCA: The U.S. team was part of a Cinderella story; it just wasn't their own.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, Frankfurt, Germany.

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